Apr 26, 2011 (updated Mar 3, 2014)
Here we are, in this world of cloud computing and full-time mobile access to the Internet, and so I think it is time to clarify a concept I’ve been tossing about recently—that of a Tasks Server—something that also lives in the cloud.
We all know what an e-mail server is—it’s a server available on the Internet that allows us to view and send mail from multiple devices. We know that as we add additional devices to our technology suite, like smartphones and tablets, the first thing we need to do is hook them up to our main e-mail server so that the device can be useful for checking our main mail account. All smartphones these days make that possible. That way you see the same mail on your phone as you see on your computer, and you can send from the same account from any one of them.
Well, I think we need to have the same multi-device access to our Tasks. And we can. Any MYN or 1MTD user probably feels keeping sight of tasks when on the run is nearly as essential as keeping sight of e-mail—managing tasks hour by hour is our way to keep above the fray. So it only makes sense that we need a Tasks Server to make that possible, just like we do with e-mail. The days of stopping by your computer every so often and manually syncing your tasks onto your handheld smartphone (or PDA) should be long-gone.
What would a tasks server look like? It would put our tasks in the cloud so that we can get at them from virtually any mobile device. However, we don’t need to speculate too much about how this would work because we have two excellent current examples: Microsoft Exchange Server and ToodleDo.
Virtually all Outlook users in the corporate world use Exchange Server (whether they realize it or not), and so all their Outlook data is automatically in the cloud. We usually think of Outlook as being the only client for Exchange—the only way to see the mail. However, with the ubiquitous deployment of ActiveSync on Exchange Servers, corporate users also have other clients—they usually have no problem getting at their Exchange account for mail, calendar, and contacts from client software on multiple mobile devices like BlackBerries, iPhones, Androids, and tablets.
But what about Tasks? Well, most BlackBerries sync tasks from an Exchange Server (I recommend ToDoMatrix as a client for using MYN on the BlackBerry with Exchange). And for iOS and Android there are several excellent Exchange Server mobile task clients that work with MYN like TaskTask (iPhone/iPad) and TouchDown (Android); all these make keeping tasks always visible across multiple devices a breeze if you are using Exchange.
However, the self-employed or personal account Outlook users usually do not use Exchange. Instead they most likely have all their Outlook non-mail data stored locally on their hard drive. And that leaves them no way to put their Outlook tasks in the cloud—they do not have a Tasks Server.
And that’s one of the main reasons that I feel all MYN Outlook desktop users should have an Exchange account—because it provides you with a high quality and easily reachable Tasks Server. It allows you to have trusted full-time access to all your tasks—something I highly encourage. And hosted Exchange accounts are cheap these days—GoDaddy has them for around $7 a month, and Microsoft for about $4. So for the price of 1 or 2 lattes a month, you can get access to one of the best Tasks Servers out there, and also enjoy all the other benefits of Exchange for mail, calendar, and contacts. Or get Office 365 for business, which includes Exchange (and access to most of the Office software). If you have three or more e-mail addresses or employees, Intermedia offers a great and inexpensive hosted Exchange service too.
But Exchange is not the only Tasks Server offering out there.
Toodledo is the other example. Toodledo is one of many browser-based tasks system that have appeared in the last years (as is Remember the Milk and a few others). But I feel Toodledo goes well beyond other web-based task systems because it is actually more accurate to call Toodledo a Tasks Server. Why? For one main reason: the makers of Toodledo have gone out of their way to allow and assist 3rd-party developers to create client software that can sync with the Toodledo servers and so emphasize a client-server system. As a result, excellent Toodledo client apps exist on nearly all platforms (on iPhones and iPads it’s Toodledo’s own app; and on Android the client to use for MYN is either Toodledo’s own app, or Pocket Informant or Ultimate To-Do List. On BlackBerry it’s Pocket Informant BlackBerry (recently discontinued) and Ultimate To-Do List). They store their data on the central Toodledo server. And you can use as many of these as you want across all your devices accessing your central tasks server account; and they all interact well with each other.
Note however, the Outlook desktop tasks pane is not a client for Toodledo; unless you use some client-based sync tools like gSyncit, you will not be using Outlook desktop for viewing ToodleDo tasks. So you choose ToodleDo either if you do not use Outlook desktop at all (say you use Gmail or Outlook.com), or if you do use Outlook desktop but decide not to use Outlook tasks anymore (there are some reasons to favor Toodledo tasks over Exchange tasks).
And if you cannot use Exchange, I definitely feel Toodledo should be your Tasks Server of choice. It gives you the cloud-based access to all your tasks that you need.
Other Task Servers?
Are there other tasks servers out there? Not really.
[April 2014 Update: There is now another MYN suitable tasks server, and that’s Outlook.com. It serves MYN tasks to the cloud, and it works well with Outlook 2013’s task module. And Outlook.com is free. More on that here].
I hope someday that Google will get serious about its Tasks module. Google certainly has the cloud concept well-covered. However, right now Google’s task module is clearly an afterthought, offering virtually no features compared to ToodleDo and others. So they are not a contender.
Same with the tasks portion of the Outlook.com Calendar; it’s just not robust enough.
And I am not sure we need another anyway. Both Exchange and Toodledo do their jobs fairly well.
Improvements needed in existing servers
That said, there are some additional features that need to be added to Exchange and ToodleDo to make them more useful as task servers.
On the Exchange side, I’d like to see a much better web-based tasks client. Outlook Web App (the browser version of Outlook) has a horrible tasks view—it’s so unconfigurable it’s almost useless. I’d like to see Microsoft improve that, or see a third-party developer create a great web-based Exchange tasks client. And I’d like to see someone make a BlackBerry 10 task app that supports Exchange tasks with MYN settings.
Toodledo has shortcomings too of course: for example, converting e-mails to tasks does not support html. But really, for Toodledo, we just need more Toodledo clients that fully support MYN task features. There’s nothing for the BlackBerry since Pocket Informant dropped their app.
And finally, I’d like for someone to write a server-based sync tool that will sync tasks directly between Exchange Server and the ToodleDo server. Nothing like that exits now (not server based), and I hope someone creates one (if you are a developer and willing, I’ll help you with the specs). If that were done, users would not have to choose one or the other servers and the client platforms they allow—they could use either or both. That would open up the number of clients and other access points that users have to their tasks.
So that’s the story on Tasks Servers. With cloud computing and multiple mobile devices becoming more and more popular, I think it’s time you asked yourself “What’s my Tasks Server?” If you are an MYN tasks user adding mobile devices, you need to have one!